It was found that a majority of the participants agreed on what traits they deemed as trustworthy and untrustworthy.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 21, 2022. It has since been updated.
William Haynes is quick with his words and has a dark sense of humor. The comedian was invited to host an episode on Discovery's "DNews" about the science of first impressions and he revealed the science of making judgments. Citing an NYU study, Haynes revealed that our brain makes decisions on a person's trustworthiness after just a split-second look at their face. “Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived,” said Jonathan Freeman, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the study’s senior author. “The results are consistent with an extensive body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness,” adds Freeman.
The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience and it found that people judge another person by their appearance even before their eyes have processed that information. The study found that the amygdala, a walnut-shaped area of the brain, helps us make these quick judgments. To put the theory to the test, two groups of participants were analyzed. The first group was asked to rate how much they trusted certain people by looking at their faces while the researchers measured activity in the amygdala. However, the second group was asked to lie inside an MRI machine while faces briefly flashed on a screen in front of them. The faces flashed so fast that people in the group didn't actually "see" them. In both cases, the amygdala lit up, clearly indicating that the brain processed the information and made judgments of the faces seen by the second group even if their eyes didn't fully register them.
The study also showed that certain types of traits were found to be trustworthy while a few others were not so much. It was found that the participants mostly agreed on which faces were trustworthy and which ones weren't. Some of the traits that were considered shady included furrowed eyebrows and shallow cheekbones, among others. “These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood,” added Freeman. “The amygdala is able to assess how trustworthy another person’s face appears without it being consciously perceived.”
Our first impressions aren't based on sight alone. Another study found that a person's voice can influence judgment. Researchers in Scotland tested various voices saying the word "hello" on a group of 64 people and they predominantly agreed on which personality traits corresponded to which voices they heard.
"From the first word you hear a person speak, you start to form this impression of the person's personality," says Phil McAleer, a psychologist at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, who led the study. While these studies suggested that we make quick judgments on the basis of someone's face and voice, it remains to be seen if it actually has an impact on our behavior in any manner. "Things that are important for behavior and for survival tend to happen pretty fast," said Jody Kreiman, a UCLA researcher. "You don't have a huge amount of time. It has to be a simple system of communication."
In a study, Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal found that first impressions made a tangible difference. According to Lifehacker, the two compared "the ratings given to college professors by classes at the end of the semester with ratings that another group of students gave the same professors based only on three 10-second silent video clips shown prior to any actual lectures." It was found that the two groups mostly agreed on how much they liked the professors, highlighting that first impressions made a difference. William Haynes certainly gave us a right laugh explaining the concepts and it's fair to say he made a very good first impression.